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 XXVI March 6, 2021

The City Council voted 10-1 to appropriate $225,500 for the City to demolish the falling-down factory building at 177 West St.

For those of you who actually want to see a building coming up from the ground by way of City Planning, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

To refresh your memory, here are some recent down to the ground City Planning (and costs), this list is a public record from the City’s Development and Planning (big “P”) Dept.:

20 Rock Street                   $318,000.00
Maki Block                          $517,400.00
32 Parker (Theatre)         $649,660.00
158 Rear Main St.             $400,410.00
85 Winter Street               $498,950.00
122 Main St                         $40,200.00
56 Nichols St                       $28,500.00
138 Pleasant St.                  $19,300.00

Nothing was re-built on any of these properties.  As far as we know, there is no Plan (big “P”) for re-building on any of them.

Add to this 177 West Street – $225,500.  

It’s owned by some heir of the deceased owner.

We are told by our Building Commissioner that the building is going to collapse at any moment.  A structural roof beam, or joist, fell down from its fastening point in the roof – and became situated in such a way that it is pushing outward on one of the perimeter walls.

So, when the wall falls, it’s going to fall outward – onto a building right next to it.  When that happens, the other wall will fall into the street (West St.) – because of the way that beam/joist is situated.

There were two choices for the City Councillor:

1. Vote to spend the Taxpayers’ money on having it demolished and taken away, or

2. Vote not to spend the Taxpayers’ money, and hope it doesn’t fall on a human when it collapses.

Number 1 is bad because we have to spend Taxpayer money. I voted number one.

Number 2 is bad because the building would remain a horribly dangerous situation for Firefighters, homeless persons, and for children – and would remain a horrendous eyesore, and embarrassment.

Only one Councillor chose the second option.  To me, that is like playing Russian Roulette with someone else’s head.  Russian Roulette is when people take turns putting one bullet in a revolver, and spin the cylinder.  Then, one person puts the gun against his/her own head, and pulls the trigger – hoping the one bullet did not end up in the chamber being activated when the trigger is pulled.  That’s fair – you risk your own head, not someone else’s.

Some say: “you should have made the owner pay for it.” 

But, the owner is dead.

“So, go after the heir.”

We tried that route.  In America, in order to obtain money from someone who does not want to voluntarily hand it over (or is not able to), you have to go through the court system to force it.  The legal course is a lengthy process in good times.  Time is not a luxury we had here.  But, we can still explore the options of that route, as we go.

So, we have this heir who inherited this albatross from a dead relative.  The heir, who doesn’t live here, took some heat from City Councillors for failing to immediately throw $225,500 at this Money Pit.

The thought that some heir would come swiftly riding in on a white horse, with a quarter of a million dollars in a leather satchel, like some altruistic modern-day Mr. Watkins II, was pure fairy tale.

So, the heir was made out to be a very bad person – because she did not do “the right thing.”

How dare she?  Let’s be real.  No one knows this person.  Maybe she is the devil, or a conservative, or some other loathsome thing.  I don’t know.  

But, maybe she’s just, well, working class folk.

First of all, no one asks to be an heir.  Maybe some crazy relative put her in his will: “To my brother’s niece in-law, I think her name is Chris or Pat, (or maybe it’s his nephew in-law Chris or Pat), I leave my dilapidated, condemned, falling-down, dangerous, money-pit factory building, and my 8-track tapes of Sonny & Cher and Three Dog Night.”  Congratulations, heir!

She probably has no extra money to throw away – never mind a quarter of a million dollars!

Did someone honestly think there would be some unlucky heir who had stayed away from this dilapidated, abandoned, falling-down, vacant, deserted and condemned building for a decade or more – but was going to fly in and quickly and voluntarily pay a quarter of a million dollars to take it out of here?  I mean, come on.

The City should have commenced the appropriate dangerous nuisance legal action regarding this travesty a decade ago – and that would have cost the Taxpayers nothing (because our two City lawyers are on salary).  I have no idea why that did not happen – but, that’s not the heir’s fault.

This was the heir’s choice: “Let me see, if I sell my house and everything I own, I will have $225,500 to my name.  I can then use it to demolish my relative’s dilapidated factory building in Gardner, Mass. and be homeless.  I’ll remain homeless, but I can’t pitch a tent on 177 West St. because I’ll have to turn the cleaned-up lot over to the City of Gardner for the back taxes my relative didn’t pay.  If the property is contaminated, I’ll not only be homeless – I’ll owe money. But, at least they won’t think I’m a bad person anymore.”

The reality is that this is a worthless building, and it’s going to collapse.  In the circumstances, there is hardly a scenario you can come up with where the Taxpayer would not end up on the hook to take care of it.  As usual.

Scott M. Graves: Democratic Capitalism Series

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